“I wanted to create and explore cool ideas and wanted to love where I worked,” says the founder and CEO of Convenient Business Solutions Inc. (CBS), who is one of 45 Canadian delegates selected to participate in the October 2021 G20 Young Entrepreneurs' Alliance (YEA) Summit in Italy to discuss the importance of youth entrepreneurship and how to better support it.
It’s no surprise that championing young business owners is near and dear to Audrey’s heart. She was just 18 when she founded her own first business, a property management company that she later sold and would eventually form the idea for CBS’ first software product.
“Youth are, quite literally, the future. When I think about my parents, who are also entrepreneurs, owning your business used to be just service-based, brick and mortar,” she says. "But now thanks to technology, there are so many ways to be in business and young people are just so creative. We need to foster that creativity and encourage it. Canada is such an innovative place and in supporting young entrepreneurs there’s an opportunity for our country to be known in business for many things.”
As a business-to-business service company, CBS specializes in software development and optical systems consulting, which includes marketing, sustainable technology, property management, and services and online tools related to these industries in the global market.
Speaking of global, although headquartered in Edmonton, CBS also has offices in Japan and Ireland. In fact, when she founded her company in Edmonton, Audrey decided to establish a presence in Japan at the same time. She says she believes going international early has been one of the keys to CBS’ success.
“I think you’re limiting yourself if your target is too narrow – companies need to be able to think internationally,” she says. “Often businesses try to get a good base locally first and then branch out, but I think the value of going international immediately is that it makes exporting and importing much easier.”
Laughing, she acknowledges that even though she was living in Japan at the time, opening a business there at a young age was both bold and incredibly satisfying.
“I powered through a lot of paperwork and a lot of meetings. You really have to want it. You have to be persistent. Looking back, I probably should’ve asked more people for help, maybe realized that I didn’t have to do it all myself. But I thought ok, if I can get established in Japan, if I'm able to successfully set up in Japan, one of the hardest markets to enter, especially as a foreigner, then I can do this in other countries.”
Persistence pays off – CBS now services 50 countries worldwide, even opening an office in Dublin in 2020. What’s more, months before the pandemic hit, CBS’ global business interests had already prompted Audrey to transition the company to a completely remote workforce.
That’s because going virtual meant they could meet with Tokyo in the morning, Germany in the afternoon, and Denmark in the evening. Worldwide relationships centered around technology could now be established and cultivated in real time thanks to, well, the beauty of technology.
Audrey says this kind of creative thinking, persistence, and attention to relationships is what makes her and CBS a great fit for a banking partnership with CWB Financial Group. A client for 15 years, she once again turned to the bank’s personalized, outside-the-box thinking when she needed funding to open the Dublin office last year.
“So we’re here asking for money during a pandemic when most banks aren’t lending,” says Audrey. “But CWB was like ok let’s consider this, let’s get creative. We felt like we had someone really fighting on our behalf, someone who knew our names, someone we could talk to – and that we could work with to figure out the best plan of action for me and my company. Especially as a tech company, you don’t really think of banks as a place to go for support. I mean, my assets live on the internet, so that makes it challenging when it comes to lending.”
After weighing and exploring CBS’ options, her CWB Relationship Manager came up with a plan for the company to apply for funding through Export Development Canada.
They were successful.
Audrey doesn’t believe she would’ve had the same outcome if she’d gone to a larger bank.
“I think it would’ve been tough to really find someone who would personally advocate on our behalf. It’s really about relationships. I can speak to someone at CWB and they bring a case-by-case perspective to unique situations,” she says.
While both gracious and humble, it’s clear that Audrey has accomplished big things since starting her business nearly two decades ago – and that her contribution to the G20 YEA Summit as a young, successful Canadian business owner shines with an entrepreneurial spirit that’s truly inspiring.
“I started off wanting to create a great environment that allowed me to follow my passions. Now I get to offer CBS as a workplace for others. That’s pretty cool. We’re now at 25 people and were just five people at the beginning of this year. I’m hiring people who were my age when I started the company and I’m seeing them love the place where they come to work as much as I do. I’m proud of that growth, and proud that I can offer this kind of experience, especially during a pandemic.”